CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michael Jordan’s No. 23 has long been synonymous with greatness. By Thursday night that number could have a completely different meaning for him.
His Charlotte Bobcats face their 23rd consecutive loss and would finish the season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106) if they don’t beat the New York Knicks on the final night of the shrunken season. And that would mean the man recognized globally as the greatest basketball player ever would be the not-so-proud owner of the worst NBA team ever.
A spectacular resume that includes six NBA championships and five league MVP awards would also include one very forgettable season for the record book.
It’s been 39 years since an NBA team finished with a worse winning percentage than the Bobcats. In a full season, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers finished 9-73 (.110) in a full regular season.
In this lockout-shortened regular season, the Bobcats are a woeful 7-58 — and they are every bit as bad as the numbers indicate.
They’re last in league scoring and shooting percentage. They’ve lost 21 games by 20 points or more. It’s hard to decide what’s worse, their offense or their defense.
Coach Paul Silas certainly would like to avoid the embarrassment of being known as the coach of the worst team ever.
“If we get a win it will be the best thing that has happened to us all season,” Silas said.
That may be tough since the Bobcats are everything Jordan wasn’t as a player — unproductive, uncompetitive and unwatchable.
Jordan told the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday that he knew this was going to be a trying year, but didn’t expect it would be this bad.
“But did we want to chase the most pingpong balls (in the May 30 draft lottery)? No way,” Jordan told the newspaper. “Ever since I’ve owned the team I think we’ve made some very positive moves on the business side. We had to make a difficult decision to turn over the talent. This year the talent we had didn’t respond, but that doesn’t cause me to turn my back on the plan.”
While Jordan is sticking to his plan, the Bobcats have been painful to watch.
No one on the roster comes close to having Jordan’s charisma — not to mention his ability to dominate. They lack a face for the franchise, at least on the court.
And all that’s on Jordan.
His reputation as an executive continues to take hit after hit, just the way he used to make game-winning shot after shot.
Jordan’s questionable decision-making has landed the Hall of Famer at the center of a debate about which former star turned NBA executive has done the worst job.
Jordan spent a season-and-a-half in Washington as team president and later as a part-time player. And while the Wizards were attractive at the box office, they were horrible as a team and owner Abe Pollin ultimately fired Jordan.
Jordan was criticized for trading Juwan Howard and Richard Hamilton, drafting Kwame Brown with the No. 1 overall pick and signing Larry Hughes to a big contract. He resurfaced as a minority owner with the Bobcats in 2006 and assumed control of basketball decisions under the watch of former team owner Bob Johnson.
Yet poor personnel decisions continued to plague him.
The Bobcats swung and missed on draft picks Adam Morrison and Alexis Ajinca. They traded away a first-round pick to get Tyrus Thomas, who’s been a flop and is still owed $26 million over the next three seasons.
The Bobcats managed to reach the playoffs two years ago under Jordan — who became majority owner in March 2010 — but after being swept in four games by the Orlando Magic he decided to blow up the roster and start over.
The top six players from that team — Stephen Jackson (San Antonio), Gerald Wallace (New Jersey), Raymond Felton (Portland), Boris Diaw (Sacramento), Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City) and Tyson Chandler (New York) — were either traded or waived.
“We were vying for that eighth and ninth spot and we looked at that and said, ‘How can we get to be one of those one, two, three or four teams?’” Jordan said in December. “To do that, you have to grab assets and that’s what we did. We had to create flexibility.”
At the time, Jordan asked fans to be patient, knowing it would take time to reload, but even he couldn’t have imagined this big of a mess.
“I think this is not a wasted season because who knows how good we can be?” Jordan said before it started. “We’ve got some good pieces that can help us get to the playoffs. I’m not waiting until next year. I think we have a good quality basketball team this year.”
The won-loss column says otherwise.
Jordan led the Bulls to an NBA-record 72 wins during the 1995-96 regular season. Meanwhile, the Bobcats are 185-290 in six seasons under Jordan and have only made the postseason once. They’ve never won a playoff game.
Charlotte has become the butt of jokes.
“It has been tough, but we are just trying to move forward,” guard D.J. Augustin said. “Many people are laughing at us and making (the losing streak) as a joke, but we take it very seriously. We are just trying to stay positive and play hard until the end.”
Even Jordan’s friends and colleagues have been critical of his job performance.
“I think the biggest problem has been I don’t know if he has hired enough people around him who he will listen to,” NBA analyst Charles Barkley said. “One thing about being famous is the people around you. You pay all their bills so they very rarely disagree with you because they want you to pick up the check. They want to fly around on your private jet so they never disagree with you. I don’t think Michael has hired enough people around him who will disagree.”
One thing everyone can agree on: This was not a season to remember.